Sprucewold Column: History on the hill

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 12:30pm

History comes alive for me when I arrive in Sprucewold. This is partly because my father, at age 14, worked at the Sprucewold Lodge. He delivered firewood to the area’s cabins each morning. He had a room in the Lodge and got up every day at 5 a.m. to load his cart.

It is partly because, when we summered on nearby Lake Pemaquid, my family often came to Boothbay Harbor for a tiny taste of civilization. I had my first legal drink in the wheelhouse of the Tugboat Inn (with my parents!).

But it is the history of the town, Sprucewold colony, and my house that strike me most. Since we bought 29 Sunset Road in 2013, I’ve spent many hours researching the house’s past – and its first real owner. George Otis Hamlin spent his first summer at my house in Sprucewold almost exactly 90 years ago. Hamlin bought the house from the original owners, Eugene and Bridget Pinkham, in September 1928. (I’m not sure they ever lived there, as the house was only finished the year before.)

Hamlin was the great-grand-nephew of Hannibal Hamlin, vice president to the American President Abraham Lincoln. He was born in Paris, Maine in 1870 and got rich patenting a method of making rayon. After decades living in Philadelphia and New York City, he finally had a place in Maine - the state that he called home.

The Great Depression of 1929 was around the corner, but it was a time of radical change in the Harbor. The newly completed bridge on Route 1 in Bath made car travel to the Midcoast easier. (The bridge was the brainchild of Boothbay Harbor’s serial entrepreneur and footbridge-builder Luther Maddocks.) Electricity was being installed and water was being piped over ground to enable indoor plumbing at Sprucewold - which was blossoming into a popular summer community. All of this history comes rushing in when I get to the house.

And then? Our house keeps making more history – with family and friends. Every summer we welcome them from across the U.S. and Europe. My sister and husband fly in from Arizona and make Harry, the smallest cabin, their nest. (The cabins are named Tom, Dick and Harry after the tunnels used in The Great Escape.) My aunt and uncle snuggle their camper up next to Dick after the long drive from North Carolina. Our sons, niece, nephews, girlfriends and boyfriends move into Dick – which was made for young people, complete with bar and pool table. They come in from Colorado, Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire and Switzerland to be with the family. They build fires in the firepit and spend endless hours talking and burning marshmallows. My husband and I, and guests, enjoy the relative quiet of the main cabin, Tom. My parents cannot make the long trip from Arizona this year and they will be sorely missed.

This year we also welcome friends from London and Greece. We have found great friends here, too, and spend many an evening with the Rileys and the Friants talking about everything under the sun - except (hopefully) politics. At the end of our stay, we will head back to London and work. And I’ll remind myself to write down the summer’s highlights for our own history books. And I will continue researching Hamlin’s life and the era when Sprucewold was born.

One more thing about Hamlin (and the reason I was able to learn so much about him): He befriended and collected works of art from a gifted artist in NYC - John Sloan of the “Ashcan School” of American painting. Before Hamlin died in 1961, he bequeathed the paintings to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. They are well worth seeing.